Chanukah Musings


rav-moshe-meir-weissBy Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss

Let me share with you some short Chanukah thoughts to add extra sparkle to your Chanukah – to go with the delicious latkas, cheese platters, and sufganiot.

1.      Speaking about sufganiot which are those delicious confections that we imported from Eretz Yisroel. (When I was growing up, all I’d ever knew of was latkes, sour cream and apple sauce.  I’d never even heard of sufganiot.)  I assumed that the reason why there is a minhag to eat these delicious donuts is because they are deep fried so it once again – like latkas – helps us recall the miracle of the oil.  However, Rav Shach, Zt”l, Zy”a, reveals another fascinating angle to this custom.  He explains that we eat them in order to be able to make the after-blessing of Al HaMichyah, which is the only blessing that mentions the Mizbei’ach, the Altar.  Since on Chanukah, the Chashmonaim joyously rededicated the Mizbei’ach, we make it our business to say this blessing.

2.      One of the infamous decrees of the Y’vonim, the Syrian-Greeks, was “Kisvu lachem al karnei ha-shor, ‘Ein li cheilek b’Elokei Yisroel’ – Write on the horns of your ox, ‘I have no portion in the G-d of Israel.'”  The Yavonim tried to influence us into believing that our livelihood (symbolized by the ox since we were an agricultural economy) had nothing to do with Hashem.  We, of course, as we celebrate Chanukah, note to the contrary that our parnassah has everything to do with G-d and since we believe that on Zos Chanukah, the eighth day of Chanukah, the final annual verdict is rendered, this makes Chanukah a good time to pray heartily for financial success.

3.      Rabbi Frand, Shlit”a, adds that in ancient times they fashioned baby bottles from horns.  It was the desire of the Y’vonim that we inculcate our young with the spirit of atheism.  Therefore, as we celebrate Chanukah, which has at its very root the word chinuch, education, we try to impress even upon our very youngest the spirit of Hashem and His miracles that permeate this very special time.

  1. When we kindle the menorah at the right time, whether it’s shkiah or forty-five minutes after shkiah, it’s a superb feeling for we know at that moment that we are doing exactly what we were created to be doing.  As the posuk says, “Davar b’ito, mah tov – A thing in its proper time, how good it is.”  Therefore, we should be vigilant that Chanukah parties should be worked around the menorah and not vice versa.
  1. The Chanukah dreidel: its rules are simple.  Gimel, you win; hei, you get half; nun is nothing and shin you pay.  The rules are puzzling, however, since we would think that the nun should be the big winner since it means neis and represents the big miracle.  I’d like to suggest that gimel, which stands for godol, great, is the big winner because those of us who have an ambition to be great as we spin through life, whether to be great with G-d, great with our spouse, great with our children, great in learning, or great in prayer, are the true winners in life.  Those who just coast through life on cruise control are in the loser’s corner.  The next best letter is hei which stands for hoyah, what happened in the past, for the true winners in Yiddishkeit are not those who are enamored by modern technology and enraptured by all that is new.  Rather, real success is for those who are connected to the sacred teachings of Sinai from thousands of years ago.
  1. The dreidel toy was used by the children in case a Syrian-Greek inspector would come to catch them learning Torah.  As soon as they heard ominous footsteps, they would hide their Chumoshim (yet others suggest that they studied by heart) and pull out their Chanukah spinning tops.  The message is clear:  Torah is more important than playing and not vice versa.  We should bear this in mind on Chanukah before cancelling our scheduled Torah study sessions.  For example, make an effort to go to your Motzoei Shabbos Avos u’Bonim learning before going to a Chanukah gathering.
  1. You can’t win with the dreidel while it’s spinning.  Only when it falls on its side do you know whether you’ve won or lost.  As long as we are alive we don’t know whether we are in the winner’s column.  As we are taught, Al tamin. b’atzmocha ad yom moscha – Don’t trust in yourself until the day you die.”  We must be ever vigilant from the many temptations that abound around us.  It is only when we are lying on our side after one hundred and twenty that we will truly know if we’ve won or lost in the game of life.  On the other hand, the dreidel also teaches us the great Jewish lesson that if you fall, pick yourself up and try again.  As the ethicists wittingly say, yiush  shelo m’das – Giving up means you’re not using your head.”  We Jews are compared to the moon which is always changing and always renewing itself.
  1. The Menorah does not have halogen bulbs or mercury vapor lights.  It does not have fancy reflectors and neither does it boast powerful wattage.  To the contrary, it is a rather relatively pathetic, outdated pool of oil with an antiquated wick inside.  But, that is precisely its powerful message.  The glow in our homes is not from the new world whose morals and values are rapidly disintegrating around us.  Rather the illumination that brightens our homes is from the Divine ancient wisdom handed down to us from generation to generation.
  1. What is menorah power?  When someone from a kiruv organization such as Oorah sees a menorah in a window and because of it rings the doorbell and offers a child a Chanukah toy and invites them to try out yeshiva, this two thousand year old ritual is sending out a beacon to alleviate the threat of l’hashkichom Torosecha, the forgetting of the Torah, as it was thousands of years ago during the time of Chanukah itself.

Dear Readers, May you and yours have a healthy, happy, sweet and wonderful Chanukah.

Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’ articles.

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